Linda's Reviews > In the Lake of the Woods

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien
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's review
Apr 06, 2011

really liked it
Read from April 06 to 07, 2011

When a student I am tutoring described this book to me (as a result of my asking about an assignment concerning it), I wasn't at all interested. However, I make it a habit to read the works my students are reading so I am able to help them better.

I was thrilled by it. I had only read The Things They Carried before this, but I'd rate this one right up there with it.

John Wade has issues. His father committed suicide when John was young, but the two had never been close. He never received a compliment from his father, or anything else besides mockery.

John became a magician and a good one. His father, of course, never understood why. But John felt powerful and in control when he was doing tricks. This became his goal for the rest of his life: control.

He also set up what he called "mirrors" in his head to allow him to see happenings differently than they happened and to help him forget what he wanted to.

These mirrors came in handy after John, a soldier in the Vietnam War, participated in the massacre at My Lai. However, he didn't forget completely. When he was assigned a desk job at the end of his second tour, he went about changing his company assignment to A Company instead of the notorious Charlie Company.

In the meantime, John had met a woman in college with whom he fell in love and wanted to possess. Yes, you heard it right. Here comes the stalker part. John spied on her to make sure she wasn't cheating on him. Amazingly, she actually married him when he came back from Nam.

From then on, John's life is devoted to politics. He rises to the position of Lieutenant Governor in Minnesota and decides to try for US Senate. Then the world crashes. His past at My Lai is exposed. His wife Kathy is stunned but never says anything. However, she is ecstatic that the political life (which she never liked) has ended.

The couple decide to go to the Lake of the Woods to recover and decide the new direction of their lives. They are broke, with no direction, and no clear future.

Then Kathy disappears.

At first, everyone assumes that she went out for a walk and got lost in the woods. Then, after they notice that the boat and outboard motor are gone, they decide she must have taken it out and gotten lost. Weeks go by as the search continues.

The neighbor whom John first told of Kathy's disappearance (nearly 15 hours after he claims to have seen her last) finds a strange thing in the house: all the house plants have been scalded with hot water and are now rotting.

The book actually revolves around the suspicion that John has done away with his wife. Several chapters are entitled Hypothesis and Evidence, each of which offers a differing story of what could have happened to cause the disappearance and statements from locals, Kathy's mother and sister, and literary or expert selections concerning control, returning vets, and other relevant topics.

I won't spoil the ending, but if you like complicated plots that don't veer off in the usual directions, you must read this book. And other books by Tim O'Brien.
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